The Italian primacy in the processing of fabrics is also a matter of water – fresh, poor in minerals and calcium. Yarns and human paths in eastern Piedmont, the textile district
12th June 1987. At the Brandenburg Gate, Ronald Reagan publicly challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Many believed that Gorbachev was an instrument of the devil on Earth, others believed that the devil was Reagan himself – who had three names on his identity card, six letters each – Ronald Wilson Reagan: 666. In the same hours that the Republican president was shouting “tear down this wall!” in Berlin, The Witches of Eastwick came out in the USA, directed by George Miller, in which three unsuspecting witches evoked Jack Nicholson in the guise of the devil himself – his clothes designed by Nino Cerruti. In December of the same year: Michael Douglas played a demonic character, Gordon Gekko, in Wall Street, directed by Oliver Stone. The clothes of this financial devil had also been designed by the Piedmontese designer. In 1987 the devil dressed Cerruti.
Ten years later. The New York Magazine used to run a weekly competition for its readers: the most original responses were rewarded with a subscription to the magazine. The game consisted of describing in 75 lines – a tweet, mutatis mutandis – a well-known character whose name had been altered by a letter. Mr. Nash from Winston-Salem deserved an honorable mention for his answer: ‘L. Nino Cerruti – hottest designer in the South Pacific.’ Mr. Cerruti with the addition of an L., became ‘El Nino’, recalling the dreaded climate phenomenon of the Pacific. A man from Biella was so well known in 1997 in a small town in North Carolina, that he became the subject of a pun – alongside Che Guevara and Sandy Warhol.
Born in Biella in 1930 to a family of textile industrialists, if someone had predicted that the nineteen-year-old Nino Cerruti’s name would end up in the newspapers, he would have thought about his signature: at that time, he had begun his studies in philosophy and journalism. A year later, in 1951, his father’s sudden death forced him to leave university to take over the reins of the company. He discovered the vocation for fashion. Soon his clothes would dress Hollywood stars: Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, Sharon Stone in Sliver, Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal and Bruce Willis in Die Hard. In 1957 Cerruti presented its first line of clothing, Hitman, and ten years later opened the first boutique of Cerruti 1881 in Place de la Madeleine in Paris, with rooms created by the architect Vico Magistretti – the same one that in 2006, shortly before his death, designed the new management center in Biella. In the year that Paris became inflamed with student protests, Nino Cerruti carried his revolution on the catwalks – at his first show in 1968, models paraded in the same clothes. Meanwhile, an up-and-coming designer, Giorgio Armani, had been hired at the company.
American tennis player Jimmy Connors wore the first sports lines, Swedish skier Ingemar Stenmark was immortalized in a commemorative stamp in his Cerruti uniform. In 1994 he was the official designer of the Ferrari Formula 1 team. They opened boutiques in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and New York. After being appointed Cavaliere del Lavoro in 2000, Nino Cerruti sold the fashion establishment (Cerruti 1881 is now part of the Hong Kong Trinity group) and dedicated himself to the Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti, of which he is president – a multinational company that sells in more than a hundred countries and produces in Biella. Since 2018 the company has been controlled by the London fund Njord Partners and, from November 2020 is managed by Filippo Vadda.
The threads intertwine and the human paths close like slots in this area of eastern Piedmont that remains the main district of Italian textiles: a province with 175 thousand inhabitants in 2018 and about 11 thousand people employed in the textile and clothing sector. Biella is the only textile district in Europe to have kept the production chain intact, without relocating. Even the historic English wool districts are in dissolution and, in some cases, delegate parts of their work to Biella. Cerruti, Zegna and Fratelli Piacenza: to keep them here, in addition to the sense of belonging, water. Fresh water, poor in minerals and calcium, with a fixed residue of 25-30 parts per million as opposed to the 240 of the water of Milan or Paris. These features make it suitable for washing wool, saving up to 50% of detergent. Those who have tried in other parts of the world to replicate cashmere or Biella wool have failed, even in the countries of origin of the most used raw materials: Australia and Tasmania for the wool, Mongolia for cashmere – the main difference is that to obtain wool they are toasted, for cashmere they are brushed. At Lanificio Cerruti they use 80% wool, 10% cashmere and 10% other fibers such as flax, hemp, viscose, cotton and polyester elastomers such as Lycra.
Combing, spinning, warp, weaving, finishing and dyeing: every phase of processing takes place in the historic headquarters on the banks of the Cervo stream. The ‘best’ washed wool, with about 90-100 thousand fibers per section, is transformed with special machinery into a tape that becomes more uniform and regular, reducing the fibers to 100, 50 or 25 per section. Only with a constant number of fibers per section and as few irregularities as possible, the yarn is dense and compact, almost as if it were a synthetic yarn. On this tape, a twist is then imparted into the fibers, in order to ensure the necessary resistance. With the warp the longitudinal part of the fabric – which varies from three thousand to eleven thousand threads – is prepared to be framed. The warp threads welcome the weft threads to compose the fabric – in this phase, the designers support the technicians. Different finishing paths, in which water, steam, pressure and heat intervene, giving light and softness to the raw fabric. Finally, the dyeing plant – the Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti dyes bow, combed tape, thread, raw fabric and creates over eight thousand new colors every year.
The company purifies wastewater with an active sludge biological plant, in which a high aerobic microbial concentration recreates the same process of self-purification that takes place in nature in artificial tanks, at an accelerated speed, so as to be able to return clean water to the Cervo stream.
Historical notes. The name of the Cerruti family appears in the mid-eighteenth century in the municipal lists of Biella, under the heading Arti et Negotij, used to identify manufacturers and manufacturers of fabrics. It was in 1881 that Antonio Cerruti, together with two brothers and a cousin, founded the company, which already in the early twentieth century came to produce ten thousand pieces of combed fine fabrics. During the First World War, the demand for gray-green cloth from overseas increased, used for military uniforms: in 1917 alone, 170,000 meters were produced. Silvio Cerruti, son of Antonio Cerruti, ran the company together with his uncle Quintino: it is with them that in 1945 the Lanificio employed about seven hundred employees with one hundred and forty active looms and more than seven thousand spindles to spin. Also in ’45 Silvio Cerruti became President of the Association of Italian Wool Industry and within a few months solved the problem of determining the quotas of freshly toasted wool to be assigned to the different companies, helping the recovery of the sector. In 1951 the company passed to his son Nino, who in 1957 launched Hitman, a company specialized in the production of men’s garments, from which in 1963 the tailoring line of luxury men’s ready-to-wear Flying Cross was born. In 2019 he dressed the Italian team at Bocuse d’Or, the world gastronomy championship.
Lanificio F.lli Cerruti
Via Cernaia, 40